Monday, October 11, 2010

Marathon Effort

However if there's one thing that winds me up when I tell someone I'm a runner, it's the inevitable question, "Have you ever done a marathon?" I haven't and don't intend to. (New York Addick, Nov 2009)

As the above quote emphasises, despite being a keen runner I'd tended to view the marathon as bordering on the dangerous, if not downright insane.

Running of the more genteel type (in distance terms, not speed) has long been my antidote for all sorts of stresses and ills, yet a marathon would appear merely to reinforce them (as ultimately it did).

However when the opportunity arose to run Chicago (one of the world's five 'majors'), I felt duty bound to tick the box marked 'done a marathon' and then swear never to be tempted again.

Assuming it would be the only one I'd do, I was glad it was in a foreign city where it was as much a journey of discovery as a run. Doing London has never really appealed.

Training was as much a mental challenge as a physical one, if not more.

Mileage targets outlined in training guides were elusive virtually from the off, and I didn't even have the seasonal winter excuse that London Marathon trainees can use.

Before long, suggested 'easy runs' became rest days and during the final four weeks, a series of pernicious injuries left me doing just a single long run per week, and nothing else.

The last of these was the Windsor Half Marathon on 26th Sep which I completed in 1.53 (26 minutes ahead of Princess Beatrice, effectively running in her Gran's back garden).

This suggested that 4 hours might be a realistic target for the full distance (for me, not Beatrice), so I set a 9-min mile goal which would still leave a six minute buffer for mishaps.

The date of the race was iconic (10-10-10), a fact not missed by the organisers who plastered it across posters all over the city.

According to numerologists (?), the once-in-a-century date is supposed to symbolise a 'powerful moment of rebirth.'

Unfortunately for me it merely symbolised a 'powerful moment of reflux', as I leaned over the toilet several hours after the race, purging the carbs I'd eagerly consumed in a desperate attempt to stay energised.

I was a bag of nerves for several days leading up to the race, a result of the creeping realisation that I was going to traumatise my body more than it had ever been traumatised before.

Chicago looked beautiful in the sunlight, thanks to its fabulous mix of modern and traditional architecture, combined with a general feeling of 'liveability' which New York lacks (at least until winter arrives).

Sadly as I was to discover, the sunlight doesn't feel so great when you have to run 26.2 miles in its direct glare.

The race was preceded by a massive expo, where all of the major running brands were on hand to give out freebies then lure you in to sell their wares, conscious that our guards were down amidst the nervous energy.

I was persuaded to buy two pairs of running shoes, having long ago decided I would ceremonially dump my current pair straight after the race, a form of cathartic release.

Following the disastrous 2007 race which was suspended midway due to heat, proceedings began at an earlier 7.30am, and an official ongoing 'traffic light style' alert system was in operation to advise runners of the official assessment of conditions.

It started at 'green' with the sun barely up, and a pleasant breeze blowing off Lake Michigan. It was to turn 'red' (dangerous) by 11am, with temperatures exceeding 80 degrees.

My half-marathon personal best earned me a place in one of the seeded start corrals, ensuring that I was across the start within five minutes of the gun, and my desired pace was never once curtailed by people dressed as gorillas or bananas.

At the 1/4 mile mark with just 1% of distance covered, it was already time for a rest (or at least a pee), opportunistically spotting some dark corners within the Columbus Drive underpass. Sometimes it's good to be a man.

5KM: 28:48

The first half of the race was the more picturesque, the route snaking through the city's core business district ('The Loop'), before heading north through salubrious disticts and verdant Lincoln Park.

10KM: 56:48

Packed crowds lined the route, their placards ranging from the witty (Toenails Are Overrated), the cruel (Only 17.3 Miles Until A Beer), to the downright offensive (Run Bitches).

In the gay area known locally as 'Boystown', the residents were camping it up in great style, not least the first set of male cheerleaders I've ever seen.

Soon the majestic sights of the John Hancock and Sears Towers were back in view, as we circled back towards 'The Loop'.

15KM: 1.25:00

At the 11-mile point just as I was losing the will to live let alone finish, I temporarily turned to religion upon seeing a sign that read: Only Jesus Can Give You Strength.

It was a inspirational message I was certainly open to hearing, because Jelly Babies didn't seem to be doing the trick.

20KM: 1.54:03
13.1 MILES: 2.00:22

I had reached the halfway point in 2 hours flat so was on course for my target, but the second half of the race was largely unshaded, and crowds began to thin out as the route winded through some bleaker neighbourhoods.

25KM: 2.23:20

By the 18-mile mark I was still clinging on to a 4-hour pace but I decided sensibly to 'let it go', and focus solely on completing the race.

The alert system had been raised to yellow by now, and organisers urged runners to slow down.

Never one to ignore official advice, I duly did (or more probably, already had).

30KM: 2.54:23

To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure I was even in control of my bodily functions at this point, and was merely grateful I didn't have an upset stomach that might test the hypothesis.

It was all about survival now, with runners noticeably beginning to drop out, and some of the camaraderie present in the early stages replaced by near-silence as each fought their own personal battle.

After all there's nothing quite like the sight of a collapsed runner receiving medical attention to focus the mind.

A series of Nike pace teams had been set up to help signed-up runners to meet their goals, and I was cruelly reassured that I was often passing overly optimistic runners with paces as fast as 3:40 pinned to their backs. Suckers.

We battled on through some mainly Latino areas where the locals were enthusiastically and noisily out in force, distributing orange slices and ice lollies.

An elderly black gentleman was leaning on a deckchair shouting, "The race is today folks", which might seem blindingly obvious, but his words stuck with me for a couple of miles. This is what I had trained for.

The route then led straight into Chinatown where the odours of local delicacies that would ordinarily make me hungry, merely made me retch.

For a couple of desperate miles, I simply had no choice now except to 'tuck in'.

Although not yet officially recognised by the IAAF, this is a verb I invented to describe the decision to deliberately run behind an attractive female to temporarily take one's mind off the pain.

On this occasion, tucking in was probably best reserved for those with a sweat fetish, but I'm grateful to a couple of tuckees for leading me through miles 21 and 22.

35KM: 3.26:46

I slowly overtook them and reclaimed my independence, conscious that runners etiquette dictates that more than ten minutes of tucking in constitutes stalking.

After we passed the Chicago White Sox stadium, we began to turn back north towards Michigan Avenue for the long straight final stretch.

The route remained very densely packed with runners even at this late stage, and I tried to focus on those who were looking in worse shape than me rather than those who had clearly trained properly. At least then I could be performing well in a relative sense.

40KM: 4.00:39

At the 24.5 mile point, a 'cheer zone' had been set up where the PA announcer kept repeating over the banging music " will finish this race..", which gave everyone a boost.

Even on half-marathons I usually find I've enough in the tank to put on a final mile push for the crowds, but I felt like a petrol car that had just been filled with diesel.

With 400 metres to go, we turned into Grant Park and trudged up the race's only small hill (where races have surely been won and lost), before turning to see that the greatest six letters in sport were finally in sight....FINISH.

I found the strength to sprint for 50 metres to finish, and had to try hard to fight back tears, so overwhelming had I found the whole experience on many levels.

26.2 MILES: 4.15:24

The person who finished in my position in much cooler temperatures in 2009 clocked 4.02, so I'm willing to mentally adjust my time by 13mins to account for the heat.

Sadly however I'd also set myself the target of zero Africans finishing in less than half my time, but a Kenyan and an Ethiopian managed it and they also had to handle the conditions.

The free beer I'd been promised 17.3 miles earlier was duly delivered and was sunk in style. It's full of carbs after all.

The rest of the day was a blur (as in some ways is the race itself), but the feeling of pride I enjoyed wearing my medal around the city for the remainder of the day will remain with me for a long time.

After all, one of the ironies of the major marathon is that large proportions of the people thronging the streets are thinking "I should do this next year". Like me, they want to tick the box.

Most importantly (and in part thanks to many Charlton fans who responded to my appeal), I raised over £3,500 for the London Air Ambulance in memory of a late friend and colleague.

When all is said and done, for that reason alone (but also many more) it was worth the pain.


At 7:55 AM, Blogger Kings Hill Addick said...

What a great post. I will never run a marathon so reading your account is probably as close as I'll get.

A really good read.

Congratulations both on the run and the money raised.

At 8:24 AM, Blogger Kap said...

Echoing Kings Hill,this was a great read and probably the best personal account of a marathon run I have heard.

Well done, got the bug to go again?

At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic -cheers CND

At 12:19 PM, Blogger ChicagoAddick said...

Fantastic achievement NYA and a story beautifully told.

Like KHA I will never run a marathon but I have watched my other half do a few and it is a very emotional (yet personal) experience. She did Chicago in 3.59 and when I met her afterwards in Grant Park she was balling her eyes out.

She vowed never to do another one after her first, but like you she is a sucker for a personal best....

At 12:41 PM, Anonymous SLC Red said...

Was that "the" Paul Benson on your sponsors list? Safe to say that your excellent commentary has convinced me never to embrace this particular challenge.

At 2:35 PM, Blogger New York Addick said...

It was thanks to Benson indirectly only (it was the donation relating to my charity bet on the MK Dons game, in which his goal sealed the 1-0 win that I'd predicted).

At 8:00 PM, Anonymous Jon said...

Good for you! Really enjoyed reading that. Been training with a friend who just did Berlin and another friend does NY next month. So running marathon is now a goal. Would fancy Chicago or NY next year but that means intense training during a Bermuda summer....

At 9:40 PM, Anonymous Bob said...

Iron man next mate? hmm? go for it!

At 2:19 AM, Blogger Philip said...

I'm tucking in for my lunchtime walk.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger ChicagoAddick said...

Jon, I have a mate who has been training for the NY marathon here in BDA. Saw him last night and he was confident that the hills and heat of Bermuda should make NY a doddle.

At 4:34 PM, Anonymous Jon said...

Chicago, agree. A high price to pay though for a "doddle" !! Running in +80 deg F with +70% humidity is bordering on insanity (I know from experience!). I know the guys doing fall marathons overseas were doing 45-50 miles a week at the end of August/september including a few +20 mile w/e long runs.....

There are a few going up for NY from here.

NYA, what was your half marathon PB that got you in a seeded corral and when did you run that? Was it the windsor race you mentioned?

At 4:38 PM, Blogger New York Addick said...

No, it was 1.49 in the Berkhamsted 1/2M in March. A very hilly race but everything seemed to go right.


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